Being Perfect Should Be Our Goal

Being Perfect Should Be Our Goal

Some years ago, in a question/answer session, a woman accused me of thinking I was perfect. I asked her what she meant by the word “perfect.” That resulted in a long string of profanity about how she was sure I was far from perfect. She even pointed out a spelling mistake in my latest journal.

I asked her to define “perfect” because the word means a different thing in the Bible than in our common English usage. The fact that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) makes it clear that becoming “perfect” in a biblical sense is not the same as a spelling error. Jesus called people to “…be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Old Testament identifies four men as being “perfect” – Noah (Genesis 6:8-9), David (1 Kings 11:4), Asa (1 Kings 15:14), and Job (Job 1:1). None of these men were sinless, so how could any of them be said to be perfect?

In the New Testament, we also see “perfect” used differently. Hebrews 2:10 tells us that Jesus “was made perfect through His suffering.” Jesus didn’t need to be made sinless. He was sinless. The Greek word translated “perfect” is “teleios,” meaning “to be an adult and full grown, not immature, infantile.” Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that scripture can make us perfect. Numerous New Testament admonitions command Christians to be “teleios.” (See Hebrews 6:1 and Colossians 1:28, 3:14. and 4:12 for examples). Another Greek word, “katartizo,” is sometimes translated as perfect, and it means “a state of wholeness or completion in which defects or shortcomings are left behind.” (See 1 Corinthians 1:10 and 2 Corinthians 13:11.)

Christians strive to be complete, but we know we will never be sinless. First John 1:8-10 tells us that sinlessness is not within us as mortals, and James 3:2-10 points out that our tongue is a challenge we all face. Christians often say, “I am a work in progress.” That is a biblical concept, and while I strive to be complete and try to be without sin, it is only through the power God gives us that I make any progress in either of those.

Please join me in prayer that God’s Spirit will be active in helping us to do better today than we did yesterday as we progress toward being perfect.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible and The New Bible Dictionary – Eerdman’s Publishers.

Freedom of Moral Convictions

Freedom of Moral Convictions and Voting

The political free-for-all that is going on in America now has all kinds of implications for people of faith. The problem is not whether people have the right to adopt any sort of moral stand but whether those people have the right to pass laws that discriminate against others who make different moral choices. Therefore, we must preserve the freedom of moral convictions in our words and actions.

In the past, laws made homosexual activity illegal
, prohibited interracial marriage, and restricted people of Asian descent from owning a business or land. Outdated laws also declared that blacks were humans but not persons and therefore had no rights. Those laws have been removed, but there is a danger of new laws against Christain moral values.

According to the Washington Post, 55 transgender candidates are running for public office this election year. That source also says that 20 gender nonconforming and 18 non-binary candidates are running. They have every right to seek public office. An old cliché says, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Unfortunately, that is no longer true in many cases. Every day we read about public figures who express their opinion and are threatened with a lawsuit or physical harm by someone who feels offended.

We know first-hand about the threat to the freedom of moral convictions. We have pointed out many long-term negative consequences of the LGBTQ lifestyle, especially if drugs and/or surgery are involved. Stating those facts has resulted in threats of lawsuits as well as personal threats against your editor. Christians who openly say that they believe God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman are facing threats of violence or loss of employment in today’s America. If the LGBTQ community succeeds in getting enough representation in our government, will they pass laws outlawing Christian moral beliefs?

Jesus spoke loudly and clearly about the separation of Church and State. Both sides of this issue need to understand the consequences of allowing moral or religious beliefs to determine who makes and enforces the laws. We must not repeat history or expect recompense for past sins.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Week for 8/14/22, page 16.

Fetal Development in the Womb

 Fetal Development in the Womb

One thing that can get lost in the rhetoric about abortion is what happens in the fetal development in the womb. The story begins around the 14th day of a 28-day menstrual cycle when an ovary releases an egg. When the sperm fertilizes the egg, the zygote, as it’s called, contains a mixture of genetic information from both parents. Fertilization usually occurs in the fallopian tube near the ovary that produced the egg.

This already growing zygote must travel to the uterus to implant itself. If the zygote lodges in the wrong place, such as in a fallopian tube, the result is a medical emergency called an ectopic pregnancy. Such a pregnancy can rupture the tube, leading to internal bleeding that can cause the mother’s death.

Once the zygote attaches in the uterus, the mother produces the hormones that nourish and protect it, allowing the growth process to continue. What might be considered a “heartbeat” can be detected long before there are chambers and valves that make up the human heart. Specialized cells create a heart tube that produces a fluttering electrical activity that can be heard with a stethoscope or detected by an ultrasound machine.

When pain signals come from the senses, they must travel to the brain’s cortex which develops at about weeks 24 or 25 of pregnancy. It is amazing that by the end of the first trimester, the developing baby has every organ it will ever have throughout its life. They merely continue to grow and develop.

People used to justify slavery by saying that blacks were humans but not persons. Nobody can support such a distinction from a scientific or moral standpoint. Yet, some have used the same failed logic to justify abortion.

The complexities of reproduction are so massive that there is still much that science doesn’t understand. Nevertheless, it is incredible that an atheist can look at the fetal development in the womb and not be amazed at the beauty and wonder of its design. “For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made” (Psalms 139:13-14a CSB).

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Science News for July 16 & 30, 2022, page 6-7; Skeptic Magazine, Volume 27 # 2 2022, page 22.

How Can a Woodpecker’s Brain Survive the Hammering?

How Can a Woodpecker’s Brain Survive the Hammering? - Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker

We live in Michigan with massive numbers of trees all around, allowing us to watch various wildlife. The design that allows our woods to survive involves many animals that plant seeds, prune plants, and control insect populations. One of the leading players in the control of insects is our Michigan woodpeckers. That raises the question, “How can a woodpecker’s brain survive the hammering?”

We have a variety of woodpeckers, but the most interesting to me are the pileated woodpeckers and flickers. These birds not only peck at trees removing insects that could damage the plants, but they also use their pecking to mark territories. One woodpecker hammers on the flashing of the chimney that vents our furnace. The sound is so loud that it wakes me up in the morning. But it also sends a territorial message to all other woodpeckers in the area.

The frequency of the hammering of woodpeckers is around 20 hits a second. Their heads move so fast it is hard to see the motion with the naked eye, and even a photograph at a high shutter speed shows only a blur of the woodpecker’s head. So, the big question is, “How can a woodpecker’s brain survive the hammering?”

The textbooks say that a spongy bone in the woodpecker’s skull acts as a shock absorber to protect the brain. However, recent research has shown that isn’t the case. Not only does a dissection of the woodpecker’s head not show any such bone structure, but high-speed video of three different species of woodpeckers shows that the bird’s brain decelerates at the same rate as the beak. There is no cushion for the bird’s brain.

So that does not answer the question, “How can a woodpecker’s brain survive the hammering?” The answer seems to be in the design of the bird’s brain, not in the area that surrounds the brain. Dr. Sam Van Wassenbergh at the University of Antwerp says that the woodpecker’s brain is so small and of such light-weight construction that the pecking does not generate enough pressure to damage it.

The problem with that explanation is that the woodpecker has the same functions as all other birds and does not show symptoms of a deficient brain. We also know from human studies that brain size is not directly related to intelligence. The design of a woodpecker’s brain to enable it to hammer on trees and other objects (such as chimney flashing) is an example of engineering design. Scientists need to do more research to fully understand the design God put into these birds and perhaps learn what practical applications it might have for us.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Week for August 5, 2022, page 21.

Watching Your Child Die Needlessly and Painfully

Watching Your Child Die

It has been more than a year since my son Tim died of COVID. A man who refused to wear a mask or get a vaccination gave him a disease that his weakened immune system could not handle. He died after a six-month battle in which he could not walk, feed himself, or speak clearly. Even though Tim was an adult, watching your child die needlessly and painfully is hard because life is not supposed to end that way.

Every time I see a news report about the death of a child, it reminds me of the pain caused by a careless or even vindictive act of another human being. However, sending your child to school healthy and happy never to come home is even harder. Having your child take their own life is harder yet.

We all cope with the death of a loved one in different ways. Jim Smith has produced a booklet that discusses the ten stages of grief. Those stages are: (1) Shock (2) Denial (3) Lamenting (4) Withdrawal (5) Frustration (6) Panic (7) Depression (8) Detachment (9) Adaptation (10) Reinvestment.

The stages do not necessarily come in that order, and we all have many questions with no answers to make the pain disappear. Guilt, anger, and blame are almost always involved when watching your child die. We may even blame God for our loss and wonder why a loving God would allow it. Unfortunately, atheists have used that as a club against believers.

When we think about what death means to atheists, it seems strange that it can destroy faith in God. I grew up in an atheist home with strongly atheistic parents who taught me that death was the ultimate tragedy. I was not allowed to go to a funeral or a memorial service, even as a teenager. My mother was furious when my girlfriend’s mother took me to a visitation for a classmate’s father. Seeing a dead man in a casket was a radical experience for me. Now, as a Christian, I am dealing with my son’s death. Although I miss him, his death is a blessing that has allowed me to move through the ten stages very rapidly.

Death for Christians is freedom from the evil of the world. My son no longer has to deal with his blindness or his struggles to breathe, walk, feed himself, or speak clearly. He is finally finished with the war between good and evil. Furthermore, his life still speaks to me and others as one full of purpose and meaning.

While watching your child die
, it is difficult to understand how good can come from the senseless death or murder of an innocent person. However, the response of those left behind can bring meaning to the life we have lost. For Christians, death is a beginning, not an end.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

For a free copy of Jim Smith’s booklet, contact us at or our USPS mailing address: Does God Exist?, 1555 Echo Valley Drive, Niles MI 49120.

Probability of a Life-Supporting Exoplanet

Planet Earth and the Probability of a Life-Supporting Exoplanet

One of my favorite columnists is Bob Berman, who writes in Astronomy magazine. Mr, Berman is a science writer who doesn’t have an ax to grind and doesn’t stoop to ridicule or hostility toward Christianity or faith in general. In the September 2022 issue, he referred to recent articles hinting that astronomers have found exoplanets better suited for life than planet Earth and examines the probability of a life-supporting exoplanet.

Berman lists a few of Earth’s unusual features. He points out that a planet being at the proper distance from its star to allow liquid water to exist is not that difficult to achieve. If you get the appropriate distance from a fire, you can have just about any temperature you want. Five other cases that Berman mentions are not that easy.

They include…
1) …having a nearby moon that stabilizes the axial tilt over long periods.
2) …not having lethal surface radiation.
3) …not having overactive volcanoes.
4) …having atmospheric gases that are used and produced by living organisms.
5) …having the right temperature underground. On Earth, surface temperatures disappear at about six inches, and at 30 feet, temperatures don’t change no matter what happens at the surface.

These are only five of the unique qualities of our home planet. Each design feature appears reasonable, but the probability of a life-supporting exoplanet depends on more than a single feature. Many planets may have one or two of the required variables, but to sustain life, ALL of them must be in place. That means you would have to MULTIPLY the probability of each individual variable to find the odds for life, especially advanced life, to exist on a planet.

The bottom line is that the probability of a life-supporting exoplanet is vastly greater than the number of stars in the cosmos. This planet is unique because it was designed by God to sustain life. Wisdom’s words in Proverbs 8:22-36 eloquently describe the process that gave us this extraordinary planet. We need to thank God for what we have been given–and take care of it.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Bob Berman in Astronomy magazine, September 2022, page 12
See a list containing 47 variables that make Earth unique in “Evidence for Design in the Universe,” adapted from a paper titled “Limits for the Universe” by astronomer Hugh Ross. It’s available free under “charts” on our website at THIS LINK.

Misunderstanding the Concept of Prayer

Misunderstanding the Concept of Prayer

We often find both atheists and believers misunderstanding the concept of prayer. Atheists see prayer as a crutch and an exercise in futility. Madalyn O’Hair, the leading atheist in the late 1900’s, was fond of saying, “No god ever answered any prayer at any time, nor ever will.” Other atheists have said that a god who needs his ego fed by the constant praise of humans isn’t worth having. For many believers, prayer is a crutch to lean on when you are in trouble.

A friend of mine tells the story of being with a family when one of their members was dying. The dying man took his last breath, and then there was silence. One of the family members said, “So what do we do now?” Another said, “I guess we should pray.” To that, the first family member said, “Does anyone here know how to pray?” They were misunderstanding the concept of prayer.

Some religions view prayer as a payment to their concept of god. They see prayer as something their god commands as a price of membership or payment for blessings received. The Christian prayer, as presented in the Bible, is very different. There are multiple admonitions for Christians to pray, but it was never given as a command to all people.

The Christian concept of prayer is not to boost God’s ego or to inform Him about a situation. Instead, Matthew 6:8 tells us, “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Jesus followed that statement with a model prayer acknowledging God’s power and glory, recognizing that everything we need comes from Him, and seeking His forgiveness as we forgive others.

Because prayer is integral to spiritual health, it is also a huge contributor to good mental health. Humans need to look to a higher power, which is part of most 12-step recovery programs. Passages like Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-10, and John 14:13-14 don’t promise physical comfort but spiritual results. James 4:2-7 makes it abundantly clear that prayer is not a selfish request for physical pleasure.

There are 85 original prayers in the Old Testament, and 60 of the psalms are prayers. When you look at who does the praying, why, and what the ultimate result of the prayer is, you don’t see self-seeking requests to an ego-driven god who needs praise to maintain his self-image. What you see is people realizing their dependence on the Creator and seeking a relationship with Him. Those who don’t see their prayers answered may be misunderstanding the concept of prayer.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Never Stop Learning

Never Stop Learning - Paul Debating Epicureans and Stoics in Athens
Paul Debating Epicureans and Stoics in Athens

Ty’Ann Brown writing in Guideposts magazine, made an excellent point about old age and learning. She writes, “Getting older does not automatically mean we are getting wiser. We have to work at it.” I can’t tell you how often I have heard someone with gray hair say, “I never heard that before,” in response to a concept I presented in a class or lecture. They sometimes make the statement with the idea that since they have never heard it before, it could not be accurate. It’s essential that we keep an open mind and never stop learning.

I share Ms. Brown’s view that learning never stops, and God does not want us to stop being students. When you read the life of Jesus Christ, you see that we should never stop learning. At age 12, Jesus sat in the temple, and the scholars were amazed as He was both asking and answering questions (Luke 2:46-47). In Matthew 8:5-10, Jesus came in contact with a centurion, and verse 10 tells us that “Jesus marveled” at his faith. The apostles were adults when Christ called them, but they learned from Him. Paul was a fully educated teacher when the Lord appeared to him, but he still had much to learn.

When Paul spoke with the Epicureans and Stoics in Acts 17:16-34
, he was learning about their religious traditions. In Acts 15, we see the entire Church learning and growing in their understanding. The world was changing, and they had to learn how to evangelize a world in flux. We live in a changing world, but we still face the issues of feminism, racism, prejudice, and nationalism that Jesus dealt with in John 4. Luke 8:26-40 shows Christ dealing with mental and spiritual issues that Satan was using to keep people under his control.

We can no longer be satisfied with traditional answers as we face today’s new challenges. Never stop learning. Learn how to use a concordance and Bible dictionary for a careful word study of the scriptures. Realize that some more recent translations of the original language may offer valuable insights that we don’t get from our old familiar translations. (I am talking about Bible translations, not paraphrases.) Second Timothy 2:15 tells us, “Study to show yourself approved by God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.” That message is not just for the young preacher Timothy but for all of us as well.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Back to School” by Ty’Ann Brown in Guideposts magazine, August 2022.

World’s Strongest Pinching Force

Coconut Crab with World’s Strongest Pinching Force
Coconut Crab

If you were to guess the animal with the strongest bite, you might say lions or great white sharks. However, probably no one would suggest a crustacean known as the coconut crab (Birgus latro). Charles Darwin called this animal “monstrous,” and people who live in the South Pacific can tell amazing stories about the strength of this crab. However, it’s not the jaws but the claws of the coconut crab that have the world’s strongest pinching force.

The coconut crab is the largest arthropod on Earth. It can weigh more than nine pounds (4.1 kg) and grow to a width of three feet (1 m) from the tip of one leg to the other. Its claws are so powerful that they can exert a greater pinching force compared to its size than any other animal except alligators. The coconut crab is nocturnal and can use its claws to climb trees and even hang in one position for hours. They also use their claws, known as chelae, to defend against predators.

Other animals can’t break open a coconut, but coconut crabs can do that with their powerful chelae, making that food available to them. Although they are called coconut crabs and live on islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans where coconut palms grow, coconuts are not their primary food. Instead, they eat various fruits, nuts, seeds, the pith of fallen palm trees, carrion, and any organic matter they find on the ground. If they find something that interests them, they will grab it and carry it away, earning them the name “robber crabs.”

Some of the most important animals on Earth are those that cleanup waste. They include birds that eat carrion, insects that use dung in various ways, and many other life forms. Coconut crabs use the world’s strongest pinching force to process organic debris, so it will not cover Earth’s surface. 

An area of the planet with trees that produce tough materials like coconuts would eventually become buried in debris without animals that clean up the mess. Coconut crabs are so efficient that they eat their own exoskeleton when they molt, leaving nothing to contaminate the environment. Coconut crabs are one example of the many animals that recycle organic material. 

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, and PLOS ONE

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with the beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Phillip Yancey quoted a writer named Monika Hellwig in an article on the beatitudes. She listed the “advantages” of being poor, and Yancey suggested we take it one step further by applying those same statements to the rich. In our age of materialism, these are some ideas worth considering:

HELLWIG: The poor know they are in need of redemption.
YANCEY: The rich do not know they are in urgent need of redemption.
HELLWIG: The poor know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with one another.
YANCEY: The rich rest their security not on people, but on things.
HELLWIG: The poor have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.
YANCEY: The rich feel they are of great importance and strive to protect themselves from anything they think might threaten it.
HELLWIG: The poor expect little from competition and much from cooperation.
YANCEY: To the rich, it is a dog-eat-dog world – look after number 1.
HELLWIG: The poor can distinguish between necessities and luxuries.
YANCEY: To the rich, everything is a necessity.
HELLWIG: The poor can wait because they have acquired a kind of dogged patience born of acknowledged dependence,
YANCEY: The rich want it now.
HELLWIG: The fears of the poor are more realistic and less exaggerated because they already know that one can survive great suffering and want.
YANCEY: The rich go to pieces when hardship does come their way.
HELLWIG: When the poor have the gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not a threat or a scolding.
YANCEY: The rich hear the gospel as a threat and an attempt to put them on a guilt trip.
HELLWIG: The poor can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.
YANCEY: The rich feel that they have everything to lose and nothing to gain.

In Matthew 19:23-24, we find Jesus saying, “It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and again I say to you it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” When his disciples questioned this statement, Jesus went on to say, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible (verses 2-26).”

We can debate the whole question of who is rich and who is poor, but in comparison with most people on this planet, everyone in America is rich. Reading the things Hellwig listed, you probably realize that you struggle with some of them. Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the poor.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Jesus is not concerned with our gross income but our attitude toward what God has blessed us with and how we use it.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Hellwig and Yancy quotes are from Following the Call, edited by Charles Moore, Plough Publications © 2021 ISBN 978-1636080048